There’s nothing like a bit of spirited, good-natured competition to bring out the best of the Canadians’ collective penchant for product and packaging innovation.
Especially so when done in a fun-filled, entertaining format—borrowing in equal measure from the wildly popular American Idol and the Dragons’ Den reality TV shows—in front of an eager audience stacked with key decision-makers from some of Canada’s leading retailers, food manufacturers, foodservice operators and other big-time end-users of consumer packaging looking for the next big eureka! moment to help them reduce their environmental footprints.
Drawing well over 200 packaging industry professionals to the Toronto International Centre last month, the inaugural PAC Green Den competition of the Toronto-based industry group PAC-The Packaging Association delivered a lively and highly interactive display of environmental awareness and inventiveness by some of the country’s more progressive packaging designers and manufacturers, large and small, who were rewarded with a priceless opportunity to pitch their ideas to corporate heavyweights like Walmart, Kraft, Sobeys, Molson-Coors et al in concurrently-held one-on-one matchmaking sessions, while also displaying their sustainable solutions over a day-long tabletop exhibit.
While the event may not have been exactly a true showdown among equals—with industry powerhouses such as Norampac and Amcor pitted against fledgling upstarts like Archetype Bag Makers and PowerForward—the event’s format of 15-minute presentations and follow-up Q&A sessions with a three-person judging panel provided equitable footing for the 18 companies to demonstrate a broad scope of eco-friendly technologies, processes and methods for enabling CPG (consumer product goods) companies and their suppliers to clean up their acts.
“This is truly remarkable,” extolled PAC president Jim Downham. “If you were to ask me how long the sustainability movement would last when it first emerged as the hot new topic in packaging, I would have said two years at the most.
“But I have never been so happy to be so wrong—the ideas presented today clearly indicate that packaging sustainability is really here to stay, and that Canadian companies have a large role to play in its continual progress and evolution.”
With all the presenters queried about their sustainability credentials and understanding of the subject in front of the live audience by an expert panels comprised of Tom Szaky, founder and chief executive of a recycled products manufacturer Terracycle, Waste Diversion Ontario executive director Glenda Giles and LCA Institute’s executive director Daniel Normandin, the necessity of conducting a comprehensive LCA (Life-Cycle Analysis) process as a key part of product development emerged as a key theme, and often as the Achilles’ Heel, that many companies marketing their packaging solutions as sustainable alternatives must still come to grips with.
For example, the presentation by Century Inks Solutions plugging the virtues of using vegetable-based inks for package-printing applications was met with a less than-enthusiastic embrace by the judging panel.
“Frankly, I see no meaningful net environmental benefit in using vegetable inks, such as the one made from soya beans, when you look at them in the broad LCA context,” stated Normandin. “When you consider all the energy and land-use that goes into creating a reliable supply of soya beans to make these inks, and the fact that this may be done at the expense of growing edible crops, I have problems with accepting this as a truly sustainable packaging alternative.
“All you’re really doing is shifting the environmental burden one step back further in the process.”
For all that, the positives vastly outnumbered any negative doubts and hesitations over the course of the Green Den session, which was capped off at the end with conference attendees voting for their favorite showcased sustainable packaging product to determine the three ‘people’s choice’ winners, including, in descending order:
• Norampac’s waxless NorShield corrugated medium and liner boxes for transportation of fresh-produce and other food products.
“Treating corrugated boxes with wax makes them nonrecyclable, and that was the thinking behind the launch of the NorShield box alternative, which is a wax replacement technology for corrugated liners and medium,” explained Norampac’s vice-president of sustainability and innovation Jean Parent, citing the product’s third-party certification to a voluntary standard for repulpability and recyclability from the Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA), as well as its eligibility for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
“The fact of wax not being water-soluble makes it ideal for resisting moisture,” Parent reasoned, “but unfortunately, this same characteristic makes even small amounts of waxed paper impossible to reuse in the papermaking process.
“Our NorShield paper is an effective replacement for all types of corrugated boxes, which is both recyclable and repulpable,” he added.
“And while wax treatments are generally applied to virgin papers, NorShield liners and medium are manufactured with 72-percent post-consumer and 28-percent pre
-consumer, recycled fibers.
“The metrics for the NorShield product are very simple: We’ve taken a product (wax) that was not reusable in the creation of new corrugated packaging and have introduced a new material that is.”
• Reusable plastic-mesh produce bags from the Minneapolis, Minn.-based Conwed Global Netting Solutions.
Manufactured from the Vexar brand of plastic sheet netting developed by DuPont, the reusable mesh bags are intended to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags in the produce sections of supermarkets and grocery stores, explained the company’s strategic business manager Brad Budde, while also providing additional consumer benefits of product breathability and storage capabilities, as well as allowing consumers to wash their produce without having to remove it from the netting.
“These bags encourage consumer engagement by giving them a choice to be a ‘greener’ consumer,” Budde stated, “while also enhancing their ‘freshness’ experience by providing them with 95-percent
open area, so that they can really judge the freshness of the product for themselves by using all of their
senses, including touch and smell.”
With carrying capacity of up to 10 pounds of produce, the Conwed bags can be safely reused up to 50 times, Budde claimed, with their net weight of less than five grams each enabling significant landfill diversion through the elimination of conventional, single-use plastic bags on a roll.
“The effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags in grocery stores has so far been focused mostly on the checkout lane,” he said, “but what about the produce department?
“And from a consumer experience perspective,” he expanded, “the breathable netting bag provides a fresher produce experience.
“At home, the netting bags can act as effective storage containers for products such as onions, potatoes and citrus, whereas the single-use bags would have been disposed because they trap moisture and do not allow the produce to breathe.”
• The EB1 brand of flexible packaging from Hood Packaging Corporation.
Developed primarily as an eco-friendlier alternative to nonrecyclable laminated polybags and multiwall paperbags used in pet-food packaging applications, the single-layer EB1 bags require far less energy to produce, according to Hood Packaging sales manager Richard Pilesky, than the traditional products.
“It is truly a 100-percent recyclable product,” he claimed, “allowing it to be used in the production of a broad range of downstream products, while its monofilm construction affords up to 30-percent energy savings, translating into a significant reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions compared to laminated constructions.”